“Crazy Horse dreamed and went into the world where there is nothing but the spirits of all things. That is the real world that is behind this one, and everything we see here is something like a shadow from that world . . . Nothing was hard, and everything seemed to float.”
from Black Elk Speaks, Being the Life Story of a Man of the Oglala Sioux, c. 1932
Sally walks into the pharmacy to pick up her Zoloft prescription. She has an unsettled, anxious feeling because she just saw someone she knows from high school working the cash register at 7-11. Sally thinks this is about the worst fate that could befall a person but she is very wrong, and she knows she’s wrong. She can’t stop the flow of her thoughts, even if they are wrong, and especially when fear is attached. She was raised in a world of privilege, a world where the privileged grow so accustomed to their comforts that they have no gratitude. So they remind themselves to have gratitude. But it drains away while they sleep.
When Sally was in high school (with the cashier at 7-11) she read The Pearl, by John Steinbeck. In the story, a poor fisherman can’t afford medicine for his baby. Even though he finds a pearl to pay for the medicine, greed and corruption get in the way, and the baby . . . well, it’s pretty rough. Sally was very moved, even awakened, by the story. She never bothered to reread it, though. (It’s a pretty short book.)
Crazy Horse was a mighty warrior and an honorable chief. But the Wasichus (white men) tricked him and ran a bayonet through his side. That was the end of the world.
At the pharmacy, while Sally waits, everyone is talking about a massive train crash, north of New York City. A passenger train went off the rails. People were killed and critically wounded. To Sally, critically wounded means “probably going to die,” but maybe it means “admitted to ICU,” or even just, “in the hospital.” As opposed to “walked away without a scratch.”
A few people witnessed the train disaster from the windows of their apartments, in a high-rise building near the crash site. They just happened to be standing there, looking down. They couldn’t believe what they were seeing. It didn’t seem real.
It was real, Crazy Horse.
“The Sender is not a human individual . . . It is The Human Virus. (All virus are deteriorated cells leading a parasitic existence . . . They have specific affinity for the Mother Cell; thus deteriorated liver cells seek the home place of hepatitis, etc. So every species has a Master Virus: Deteriorated Image of that species.)
The broken image of Man moves in minute by minute and cell by cell . . . Poverty, hatred, war, police-criminals, bureaucracy, insanity, all symptoms of the Human Virus.
The Human Virus can now be isolated and treated.”
William S. Burroughs, from Naked Lunch
Combat the Virus
1. Pick up the phone for a telemarketer and listen until the end of the pitch.
2. Admit that your fidelity stems partly from laziness and fear, in addition to love.
3. Take your clothes off in public.
4. Slap her in the face.
5. Slap him in the face.
6. Talk to the madman in dirty overalls who walks by your house every day.
7. Don’t just google that long-lost person, make a call.
8. Give away all of your money, every last dime.
9. Never apologize when you are planning to do it again.
10. Use a leash and scoop your poop.
“If you were to ask me again to write a conclusion, instead of writing neurotic or psychotic, I might just write a word like good.”
–Dr. Richardson, at the inquest in Breaking the Waves
The point of the film Breaking the Waves is that religion breeds hypocrisy, which isn’t good. And sex and rock n’ roll aren’t bad. And God doesn’t actually talk to people. So if he starts telling you to do things, especially if these things are destructive to you or others, get a second opinion.
In Scotland, in the highlands, by the coast.
Green hills, cold water, backwards people.
The director, Lars Von Trier, must have told his actors and actresses not to wash or brush their hair, and to wear their own clothes on the set. It was experimental.
“You describe the deceased as an immature, unstable person who, due to the trauma of her husband’s illness, gave way to a perverse form of sexuality.”
–the barrister, to Dr. Richardson
Bess gets married. Her handsome husband works on an oil rig. He receives a blow to the head, on the rig, and while still mentally affected from the accident, he encourages Bess to have sex with other men.
Bess makes a complicated deal with God: if she has sex with other men, her husband will survive his injury and be okay. She feels it’s her fault that he got hurt, so if she gets hurt worse, then her husband will benefit.
A lot of twisted religious stuff going down in the little Scottish church on the hillside.
With a sadistic minister and creepy, evil elders.
Bess goes out on a skiff to a tanker to turn tricks, and on the way, she is talking to God. She comes back on a stretcher, brutally beaten and raped. She dies a little later in her best friend’s arms.
Katrin Cartlidge plays the best friend/sister-in-law. Emily Watson has the lead (Bess). I prefer to watch Katrin—just a personal preference for the angular, long-nosed type, the lass with small teeth. I’ve seen Cartlidge in several films, never as the lead. Mike Leigh loves her. Me, too. (I just read on Wikipedia that she died. In real life. I did not know that.)
Emily Watson mugs too much for me. She’s the Jim Carey of the British Isles. And Stellan Skarsgard, who plays the husband. Is he seven feet tall? Maybe everyone else in the film is just short. He wears a ratty old shearling coat in every scene. This is lovely.
Good things wait for us in the afterlife.
Just ask Elton John, for no particular reason.
A closed lid is my soul’s flesh-eye.
O spirits of whom my soul is but a little finger,
Direct it to the lid of its flesh-eye.
Jean Toomer, from “Prayer,” from Cane
I’m looking at you, blue bug.
Shrink then, sneak into the curtains
‘cuz they’re blue too.
I don’t care.
I’d rather you go.
But I’ll pretend you went.
Little blue bugs always come back.
They have lots of friends, also blue.
Glossy blue, like an art director painted them
just for this one appearance.
Antennae waving crazy–
God knows why–
Announcing a need, maybe.
get me the hell out of here
I’m watching you,
little blue bug.
Shrinking and hiding
Not very noble
& the legions of bugs behind you
why are they waiting?
Should I look for them,
deny their existence,
prepare to defend?
Antennae can’t answer.
They’re just receivers.
Bug, where’d you come from?
Some worker knocked open a hole in the wall.
Well-intentioned, an older guy, watery eyes, Irish fellow–
“Madonna once would come in dreams to cheer
My slumbers with angelical delight;
But now she brings foreboding in the night,
Nor can I drive away my grief and fear.
And in her phantom-face I see appear
Her own hurt mixed with pity for my plight,
And I hear words that cry above my fright
That the final term of joy and hope is near.
“Does our last evening not return to you?”
She says, “Your eyes were wet and shining when
For the lateness of the hour I had to flee.
I could not, nor I would not, tell you then,
But now I tell you, it is proved and true;
Never again on Earth you’ll look on me.”
Petrarch, Sonnet 212, from The Canzoniere
Madonna never came to me in a dream. But Joni Mitchell did, and in the dream, Joni encouraged me to stay on my path. That dream was about a hundred years ago and I suppose I am still on my path. I mean, whose path could I possibly be on but my own? That seems obvious, but when Joni said “stay on your path” I thought that meant get onto her path, and follow it straight to genius, greatness, fame. Follow the path that takes you to Madonna, that makes you Madonna. That path.
Years later, after dragging my guitar around the East Village for a while, I picked up a book about the best “female singer/songwriters” (this was circa 2000) and I was surprised to see Madonna featured alongside artists like Joni Mitchell and Carole King. I‘m a proud Madonna fan when it’s appropriate, but I never thought of her as a singer/songwriter. It just didn’t seem to be the right label for her. The book immediately convinced me that I was wrong, mostly because I have a hard time holding onto my opinions. Madonna’s songs may depend on synth sounds, samples, and mechanical drum beats, but they are still songs. She is technically a songwriter, and she is also very much a singer. So she qualifies for the book, which is no doubt out of print, because who really wants to read a book about Sarah Mclachlan, etc? We still hear the songs on the radio, so, enough already.
If you have ever worked with a male music producer, recording engineer, or any male musician you know that they often have very strong opinions about recording artists and where they land on the ladder of musical genius. So I was surprised when a producer/engineer I worked with, whose opinion I respected, admitted that he was a loyal Madonna fan, and said he owned everything she had ever released. He said he followed her quite closely, because she always seeks out the most current, cutting-edge, respected DJ/producer before she commences work on an album. She hires producers who are just ahead of the trend, whether it’s dub, electronica, ambient, whatever. And my understanding is that she collaborates on the songwriting–she may come into the studio with a concept but in my imagination, they sit down with a beat or a sample and build out the song from there. I don’t how she works, what her creative songwriting process is. I looked into it, and checked out a couple of online interviews. Apart from discovering that she has a feigned English accent, all I learned was that she sometimes misses being married and she has several personal chefs. And she is most certainly playing the risky game of cosmetic surgery.
When I visualize Joni Mitchell, I picture her on the cover of For the Roses; she is crouching in the woods in buckskin and velvet with her long blonde hair brushed out neatly. I think there is also a picture of her naked, from behind, standing by a lake. It’s more hippy than sexy, unless you think Birkenstocks are sexy.
When I picture Madonna, a thousand images come to mind. I have to sift through them in my brain. I usually land on the shot of her that was the cover of her record Music. She is wearing glammed-up cowboy clothes and I am pretty sure she is pregnant. I like that. She was pregnant, and sexed herself up for a photo shoot.
Madonna would have us believe she is a free spirit whose artistry dictates all her choices. She just wants to express herself. But she is also such a marketplace commodity, or she was, and she is ever a businessman. I respect and love her for being a businessman. But I don’t know how free a person can be as an artist, within those constraints. I don’t know if any best-selling pop star can really call his or her self an artist. Not by the definition I have in my head.
I will gladly give that title to Joni Mitchell. Maybe because she sounds so ornery and rejecting in all of her songs. Or maybe because she also paints, and smokes, and seems like she might be living on the last of her funds right now. She didn’t become a magnate.
Artist/magnate. How can that be?